Thursday, 30 December 2010

My Cinema Highs & Lows 2010

Only made 77 visits this year, my 3rd-lowest count since 1974. Anyway, let's get on with it.
In the order of seeing them, with the odd 'clue' for some, and with a * indicating really good, the best for me were:-

Sherlock Holmes (Dir: Guy Ritchie)
*Nowhere Boy (Re: pre-Beatles John Lennon)
*Nine
The Road
Un Prophete
*Invictus (Clint Eastwood back on form)
*Exam (8 candidates sit exam. Question paper blank. Gradual elimination follows. Intriguing)
Micmacs
*Precious
*The Ghost (Polanski's best in years - No, decades!)
I am Love (Italian film - Tilda Swinton's love interest, Edoardo Gabriellini, such a hottie!)
Lourdes (French film located at the pilgrimage site. Well-balanced tale of seeking miracle)
The Bad Lieutenant - Port of call New Orleans (Good, despite my not being fan of N. Cage)
The Killer Inside Me (probably most controversial of year. Graphic violence against 2 women)
The Brothers Bloom
Lebanon (Israel - set almost entirely within an army tank. Remarkable)
*Inception
Gainsbourg
Partir (French film with Kristen Scott-Thomas excelling in French-speaking role)
Cyrus (John C. Reilly playing very well, as usual, in film which pleasantly surprised me)
Metropolis (The Classic! - now for first time showing virtually complete.)
Buried (along with 'Cyrus' above, tale of being buried alive I hadn't expected to like, but did.)
*Another Year (Mike Leigh, with 'Inception''s Christopher Nolan, has yet to make a dud film!)
Monsters (this year's brilliantly effective film made on shoestring budget. See, it can be done!)
Catfish (absorbing tale of Facebook deception. Claimed to be true story. Is that also a deception?)
Des Hommes at des Dieux (Factual story - monks in Algeria threatened by Islamists. Moving.)

(Note: I did see the complete 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' trilogy, and though all were pretty good, none of them quite made my final list of honourable mentions.)



And my least enjoyed/what was the fuss about? films:-

Cemetery Junction (Ricky Gervais, whom I usually like, misfiring badly)
Iron Man 2 (not as interesting as the first)
Robin Hood (Russell Crowe as our Robin? 'Ha ha' or 'Ho hum'?)
Avatar (Zzzzzz zzzzzzzz)
Get him to the Greek (Russell Brand failing to be as interesting as he could be - again!)
The Social Network ('cos I couldn't hear what the hell they were talking about! Mumble mumble.)



And the winner of My Best Film is:-

'Inception' - the only film this year I paid to see twice. Intelligent, multi-layered and it lingers in the mind. Ever since 'Memento', Nolan maintains his very high standard.

And my 'razzie' goes to, yes: -

'The Social Network'
As if it wasn't bad enough for two of my most respected British film critics to drool over this film, one of them actually nominating it as 'film of the year', hearing that it's also likely to be nominated for multiple Oscars, including BEST FILM, is the final straw. That just totally pisses me off. Anyway, aside from all the incoherent mumbling through 80% of this 'entertainment' (hah!) I've not only got no interest in computer 'nerdology', 'Facebook' itself is not a big part of my life anyway. So there!


With 2011 beckoning and my financial plight not improving, let's try to save a bit of cash next year by being a bit more discerning. Happy viewing, folks!

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Best Wishes to ALL my blog visitors

To every single one of my dear computer-friends who make me feel so honoured by your visiting my blog, if I haven't wished you individually (and even if I have) I earnestly hope for your happiness and contentment this Xmas season, both for you and for those especially dear to you - and I wish for you a 2011 which surpasses every previous year. Bless you all, my lovely friends - you're all so beautiful, both inside and out.

Now, on this frosty Christmas morn I'm about to imbibe a glass or three of mulled wine with a couple of mince pies while listening, with my dear pussycats, to an old favourite recording of 'Messiah'.

And later, this year's Xmas dinner is going to be:-
Vegetable samosas with baked potato slices and sprouts, with more than a dash of Indian lime pickle to give it that extra 'oomph'. Mmmmmm. I'm salivating already!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Winter's Tale without ending.

I hate this weather - HATE IT! Although for the last few days we in the south of England have been experiencing daytime temps in the dizzy heights of 4 or 5 degrees Celsius, with nights hovering around or just below zero, we're due for yet another prolonged Arctic killer blast in a couple of days, even colder than the one we had at the end of last month, which was quite bad enough, thank you! Yes, I've heard that what we are going through is as nothing compared to conditions in north-east and mid-west USA and, indeed, other parts of north and central Europe, but my tolerance of cold is already low and now it's just plain scary. My nightmare is that the heating in my flat is going to suddenly pack up, blasting away continuously day and night, which would entail me having to get in touch with my landlord whom I haven't spoken to for nearly 18 months following his displeasure at my complaining about the noisiness of my downstairs neighbour (now largely a thing of the past, by the way).
I've never known in my entire life a Winter like this. Usually if we have really cold weather and snow at all, it only starts towards mid or late January, sometimes later; but to begin in November is unheard of. Only wish I could hibernate with my pussy cats for at least the next two months. Actually, waking up just in time for Easter would be even better. Meantime it's got to go on being a case of scarf-wearing indoors, over a 4-layer top of vest, T-shirt, ordinary shirt and sweatshirt, with additional hot drinks: also two duvets at night with hot-water bottle - and yet more teeth-chattering. Brrrrrrr!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

A most welcome thaw but the snow will surely be back

Even though it was forecast, I was so pleased to find on getting up this morning that nearly all the snow and ice has gone. In my entire life I've never known such early Winter snow in such quantities, and with corresponding biting cold, day as well as night. But we are the lucky ones here in England's extreme south; the rest of the country, and Scotland especially, continues to suffer dreadfully. My heart goes out particularly to those poor homeless people, not to mention all those animals, with nowhere warm to go to. The current respite in this area is due to last only a day or so before a return to the big freeze, at least temperature-wise, but thankfully no more snow forecast for at least the next few days. But the white stuff is bound to return before too long; it's far too early to hope realistically for anything else.
I do so dislike extreme Winter weather; all very nice and picturesque when viewed from the other side of glass, but having to go out in it is another matter. Actually the snow itself is not half as bad as ice. I've always been terrified of going arse-over-tit and breaking something, though have managed to avoid taking a fall most Winters.
Our current situation is due, we are told, to a huge 'kink' in the jet-stream which, instead of coming at us direct from the Caribbean area, is now looping right up over Greenland and bringing snow and bitter temps down from there. (I heard yesterday that most of this country is currently even colder than Greenland itself!) There's also talk that it's been caused by this year's erratic behaviour of 'El Nino' off South America's Pacific coast. Whether that's the case or not, all of north and mid-Europe is suffering badly in this extreme, sustained Arctic blast.
I find it intensely irritating to hear people saying that such weather as we are experiencing proves that global-warming is a myth. Even though it's not the case with our current situation, the melting of the Arctic ice is practically certain to divert the mild Atlantic Gulf Stream, which keeps western Europe temperate for its latitude, southwards to the African coast or push it underneath the ocean surface. (This is different from the jet-stream, the latter being air, the Gulf Stream, water, of course). The consequence of a diverted Gulf Stream will be that while the rest of the earth warms up we in western Europe will actually get colder. So, maybe we ought to view our current travails of early severe Winter as merely a prelude (I nearly said "warm-up" - Ha ha!) to what may well be coming. Yes, we live in 'interesting' times.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Does over-generous tipping signify a need to be liked?

(I'd be very interested indeed to hear of other opinions on this issue.)

I've always been one to over-tip in restaurants, taxis etc - and I've wondered many times if the reason originates from a subconscious desire to be approved of, and specifically, for being gay, even if the waiter, taxi-driver etc gets no 'clue' that I am such. - Or is that too simplistic?
I regularly give tips of around 20%, but if the original charge is a relatively small amount I may give 50% or even more. Although at the time it makes me feel better, I then get to wondering if it's having the opposite of the desired effect; for example, are they going back and laughing at me with their co-workers for being such a 'soft-touch'?
I'm not proud of what I do but it's a kind of compulsion. Perhaps it's a compensating for low self-esteem? When I regularly used to go to restaurants with a group of gay friends they would look aghast at the amount of money I'd leave, and they'd try to get me to take some of it back, saying that they would never leave so much.
The etiquette of leaving tips in British restaurants is a mess anyway. No one knows what the correct way to act is, where you can never be sure that the money you pay on top of a bill will go to the waiter or to the business, and whether a so-called 'service-charge' (usually 10%, but sometimes 15%) has already been added to the menu prices when you get the bill, whether you think it's deserved or not (an infernal cheek, if you ask me!). In cases where I want to register my disapproval of a particularly poor quality of service, I just give them a mere 10%. (Hah! That'll teach them a lesson!). But the whole thing needs seriously sorting out. It's even been found that in some places the staff are watched on CCTV to make sure that they declare any cash picked up, which, if they are allowed to keep, is then deducted from their wages!; which rather takes away the whole point of giving a tip in the first place.

This issue connects to my previous blog about Lionel Bart who, also gay, was likewise profligate in his generosity - perhaps for the same reason as me; though of course, mine, in its relative modesty, can hardly begin to compare in scale with his!

I'd really like to know how others react to giving tips generally and how much they usually do give; always on the assumption, of course, that it's going to end up in the pocket of the person whom you want it to.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Lionel Bart - A story of what might have been.

Born in 1930, Lionel Bart did have one enormous success on both stage and on screen with 'Oliver!' before dying in 1999, having been rescued from penury a few years earlier in a daze of alcohol and drugs which had blighted his life and practically destroyed him back in the 1960s. Even as the film of the musical was up for numerous Oscars in 1968 he had sunk so low that he wasn't even invited to attend the ceremony, remaining at home alone in his small, dingy apartment. (The film won 'Best picture' Oscar as well as 'Best Director' for Carol Reed.)
But it all could have been so much better. If he'd made more sound judgments he could well have ended up as the British answer to Irving Berlin, who, like Bart, couldn't read music, but who also had a great talent for both melody and words. Just look at the internal rhymes and half-rhymes of one of the lesser-known songs from 'Oliver!' - 'Oom-pah-pah'. Aren't they just so brilliantly clever?

There's a little ditty they're singin' in the city
Especially when they've been on the gin or the beer.
If you've got the patience your own imaginations will tell you just exactly what you want to hear.
Oom pah pah, Oom pah pah, that's how it goes.
Oom pah pah, Oom pah pah, everyone knows,
They all suppose what they want to suppose, when they hear 'Oom pah pah'.

Mister Percy Snodgrass would often have the odd glass
But never when he thought anybody could see.
Secretly he'd buy it and drink it on the quiet and dream he was an earl with a girl on his knee.
Oom pah pah, Oom pah pah etc
What is the cause of his red shiny nose?
Could it be 'Oom pah pah'?

Pretty little Sally goes walking down the alley
Displays her pretty ankles to all of the men.
They could see her garters but not for free and gratis.
An inch or two and then she knows when to say when.
Oom pah pah etc
Whether it's hidden or whether it shows,
It's the same Oom pah pah.

She was from the country but now she's up a gumtree.
She let a fellow beat her and lead her along.
What's the use of cryin'? She made her bed to lie in.
She's glad to bring a coin in and join in this song.
Oom pah pah etc
She is no longer the same blushing rose,
Ever since Oom pah pah.

Bart's troubles began soon after his first successes, penning big hits for the likes of Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele. Apart from 'Oliver!' he had success (at least in Great Britain) with other musicals, notably 'Blitz' and 'Maggie May'. His sudden wealth in the 1960s when drugs were just about de rigueur for any successful person, coupled with his alcoholism, led him to throw parties for the rich and famous, where his habitual generosity accelerated his downfall. It was reported that at the door he'd leave bowls full of money (and drugs), telling all to help themselves to what they wanted. The bubble was destined to burst soon anyway but the ultimate crushing blow came with his ill-fated comedy-musical 'Twang!', based on the Robin Hood legend, which cost an absolute fortune to stage and bombed immediately, creating a mountain of debt for him, from which he never ever recovered. As part of the bankruptcy arrangements he was required to sign away the rights of any future royalties for 'Oliver!' in perpetuity (both stage and film). So while this show in particular was being feted around the world (I saw a really fine production in German at the Munich Opera House) he was living in poverty in a basement flat in London, just eking the humblest of existences. But a belated salvation of sorts came in the early 1990s when the theatre impresario Cameron Mackintosh discovered the state Bart was living in and managed to negotiate an arrangement with his debtors to allow him a modest share of future royalties of 'Oliver!'. Although he was only to survive a few more years a slightly more comfortable life was thus secured for him before he finally died in 1999.

Lionel Bart was Jewish and gay, the latter at a time when all homosexuality was criminal. It's said that he wanted to marry one of England's biggest singing stars of the late 1950s and early 60s, Alma Cogan, as a 'cover', but nothing came of it. (She was also Jewish, also never married and died from cancer at the tragically young age of 34.)
It's a very sad tale of how things could have been so much better for Lionel Bart. To those of us who love musicals, he passed through our lives as brilliantly but as short-lived as a meteor. We were deprived of a formidable talent, though such tragic tales are not an uncommon story. What we can do is to cherish and enjoy what he did leave us and toast his memory and achievements.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Yet more pills to take. I'm starting to think I ought to feel unhealthy!

Like so many of us who've seen more than a few dear friends depart this life prematurely, I do feel grateful my good health; never having had a serious illness; never having been in hospital; never having broken any bones - yes, I'm truly fortunate. However......
My doctor has now put me on yet another medication, which like the others prescribed, are designed to keep my blood pressure in check. So with these newly prescribed statins to go with the 3 others he'd previously prescribed, and with the recommended daily aspirin, as well as the multi-vitamin supplement (which I've been taking for over 30 years to top-up my vegetarian diet), the daily odourless garlic tablet (I dislike garlic in food, but know it's purported to have heart-beneficial properties) and daily cod-liver oil for my ageing joints (my sole contravening of veggie lifestyle, something I do feel guilty about) and quinine tablets (to prevent those dreadfully agonising night cramps, which I've had a lifelong tendency to suffer) - I now take a total of 9 different daily tablets. Compared with some people that's not many at all, but for someone who is otherwise healthy? It does seem oddly excessive.
Whenever I tell the doctor (or nurse) that I sometimes marvel that I don't rattle as I walk I always get the same answer, along the lines of "Well, it's better than being dead, isn't it?" which sounds to me somewhat melodramatic though I do understand the reasoning, even though the efficacy of all these tablets can't be positively proved. It's a bit like being on a vital life-preserving drip needed to keep me alive, albeit a mental drip. Oh well. Quit moaning, Ray, and count your blessings! "One, two, three, f........"

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Jazz - Why can't I 'get it'?

The scene: An Oscar Peterson concert about 30 years ago. Myself in the audience.
He starts playing piano. (I think it might have been 'Deep Purple'.) He's playing it straight, just as it was written. I think to myself "Crikey, this is so good." I settle down in my seat letting the glorious melody waft over me. He plays it once, straight through, his small group accompanying him unobtrusively. Then......
He starts from the beginning again, only this time, it's, well, different. I feel a bit let down. Why did he stop playing the way I liked it? But, hang on. There are mumbles of satisfaction from the audience - "Oh yeah......Mmmmm" - a few smatterings of applause, even audible laughter, heads start moving this way and that. I look round and see practically everyone else wearing what appears to be beaming smiles, almost ecstatic. The man himself turns to the audience with a wide grin and gives them a wink of complicity. But it wasn't meant for the likes of me. I was totally not part of it, excluded, shut out from this 'conspiracy' of shared pleasure. And so the rest of the concert proceeded in like fashion - me sitting there, cold and unmoved whilst everyone else was in raptures of delight at the master's dexterity in giving them just what they'd come for.

So it's been all my life. I have a passion for most types of music, - in particular classical, pop (well,, say 1950s up to around 2000) and musicals (Good heavens! Who would have thought it?). Country and Western I can listen to with ease and pleasure - rock, yes, up to a point, though not Heavy Metal (predictably). But jazz (I mean true jazz - 'trad' jazz is no problem) has always been a 'blind spot (deaf spot?) to me which I wish wasn't there. I've tried and tried over many years, not just attending the occasional jazz concert like the one I've just described, but also deliberately listening to jazz programmes on the radio. All the time I'm unable to tune in to that special jazz 'wavelength' in the brain which clearly gives so many people so much pleasure that I want to be a part of also.
I once met in Germany an American guy about my age, a serious jazz aficionado, and told him of my feelings of 'inadequacy'. He suggested concentrating on listening to the bass line rather than the embellishments that went on above it, which (he said) should automatically carry one along. So I tried that method. I mean really tried. But all to no avail. No matter how I listened it was always the same feeling of not being able to 'tune in'. In fact I was shut out.
I haven't re-attempted to overcome the problem for some years now and am wondering whether I ought to give it just one more go. Or maybe I ought to accept that I'm too old now and that if one hasn't 'got it' yet, one never will.
It still bugs me a bit that there's obviously something there that's giving pleasure to so many millions, yet because of some 'blocking' I can't be part of it. Well, perhaps I just ought to accept that we're all different. I bet there aren't many around who'd care for me to lecture them on the sublime, supreme perfection of Bach's choral and keyboard music - and why should they?

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Films which spooked me the most.

(I was going to post this as a comment on Cubby's excellent 'Patently Queer' blog as an entry under his 'Hallowe'en Meme', but I found it kept growing and would have overshadowed his own original blog - so here it is separately, re-worded, with acknowledgement to Larry/Cubby for providing the idea.)

In chronological order of film release (all seen for the first time by me in a cinema, of course) :-

Even I was too young to see 'Psycho' on its first time round, but it was re-released in 1966 (in a double-bill with the 1953 'War of the Worlds'). To date I have still never seen a film which elicited so many screams from an audience. The film may appear to be old-hat now, having been dissected and analysed over and over again, and when we watch it again (it really does stand up to repeated viewing with Tony Perkins' performance surely being his best ever) it's more admiration for Hitchcock's artifice rather than for the original raw emotions, which can never be re-captured. If I watch it now, it's in an forensic way, observing how and why it was so brilliantly effective.

Seeing 'The Exorcist' in 1973 for the first time caused me more ensuing sleepless nights than any other film. It still holds up, nearly 40 years later - though it's a shame that the head-swivelling scene looks so artificial in those pre-CGI days. But that's only a few seconds out of a very disturbing and, yes, a good and extremely powerful film.

'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' (original version, 1974 ) - banned from showing anywhere in Oxford (where I was living at the time) and also in many other areas of the U.K.. - and when I eventually did see it I could see why! Nightmare stuff!

John Carpenter's 1982 'The Thing' - the blood-test scene above all. Even though I know which scientist is the replicant it's still as chilling as hell!
Btw I could never understand why the same director's 'Halloween' (1978) is so highly regarded. One of the leading British film critics has called it 'the greatest horror film ever'! I agree that it's certainly a good film but I doubt if it would find a place in my 'Best 500 Films of All Time'.

I'm with Larry in nominating 'Paranormal Activities' as probably the scariest film of recent years. I'm going next week to see the sequel, but it's received poor reviews here, largely because the 'shocks' delivered are due more to sudden loud bangs on the soundtrack rather than skilful film-making. That's not clever, it's just lazy and it's cheating!

Honourable mentions:-
'Alien' - shame that after John Hurt's spectacular stomach-bursting scene, all the subsequent killings seem to be anti-climaxes.
'Poltergeist' - would have been more effective if curtailed before the final half-hour which culminates in the overblown cemetery upheaval and graves- and coffins-opening scene.
'The Amityville Horror' (1978 original) - despite less than enthusiastic reviews I thought it was probably the best among the glut of 'haunting' films made over the following decade. (My main concern was hoping that the family dog would escape unharmed.)

Looking forward to other suggestions by anyone who reads my blog. (Thanks again, Larry)


'

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Re:Jane Austen - It's so disappointing when one's bubble is burst.

About 20 years ago, after a long time of trying, I finally 'got' Jane Austen and since then I've been proud to quote her as genuinely one of my very favourite writers of all time - her prose light as a souffle (or as the lightest sponge cake, as I like to say), an enviably delicate prose style unrivalled by anyone else writing in English. One of the very cleverest people I ever knew (a work colleague in the early 1970s) said that if he could have one wish it would be to be able to write like Jane Austen. It was he who made me determined to try to see what it was that he was seeing in her works - and I finally managed it. I have now read all six of her novels several times each and re-read them regularly in rotation, getting so much pleasure that it's a true delight to be savoured and one not to be dulled by over-familiarity.
Then this morning I hear the dreadful news. After several years of research a (female) professor at Oxford University has concluded that Austen almost certainly owes most of her style to one of her editors, identified as one William Gifford, who polished her sentences, improved the vocabulary, and corrected her grammar, spelling and punctuation, the latter of which was, according to the original manuscripts, particularly poor. Apparently Austen also never even employed the use of paragraphs. Oh dear, what a thumping great let-down! It's not absolutely conclusive yet, but I have no reason to disbelieve the results of this painstaking and exhaustive research. It wasn't so much the plots of her books which were impressive - indeed there is a certain 'sameness' about the stories of unrequited love, long periods of courtship with ups and downs and doubts, the occasional example of scandalous behaviour (for the time) and 'happily-ever-after's. It was the impeccably crafted prose style that won me and many, many thousands of others, over. So now it seems that we've got to direct the praise elsewhere. Not that it makes the actual books any less worthy of admiration, but one can't help feeling a certain deflation. I only wonder how my former work-colleague, if he's still around, himself feels on hearing this news.
Now all I need to hear is that Beethoven got significant 'help' with his composing - and that it was his cleaner who wrote on some blank music manuscript paper "da-da-da-DAAAAH"!!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

In today's films why is so much speech mumbled?

I've just been to see 'The Social Network', about the creation of Facebook - or so I've read. Just as well I knew that beforehand because at least half the dialogue was totally lost on me. I find this a feature of more and more films these days. Clear diction just doesn't seem to matter as it once did. It's almost as though it's not really that important to understand what they're saying as long as you get the drift, though even that can be a challenge.
From the very opening scene of this film, between two characters in a crowded bar in which something about the Chinese population (I think) was mentioned , but managing to converse without raising their voices to be heard as I would have had to do in similar circumstances, the majority of ensuing scenes were similarly blighted. And yet the film has had such glowing reviews in the U.K. - one critic I read even calling it "probably the single best film of recent years". Did he then manage to catch the dialogue? I find that hard to believe It may indeed be a near-masterpiece, but as it's such a wordy film, where I, for one, couldn't understand what was being said, I'm not in a position to judge.
I don't think it's a case of deteriorating hearing on my part, or of the volume being too low. (In some films the incidental music soundtrack is just too ear-splittingly loud.) I certainly have no difficulty in ordinary face-to-face conversation. I think this practice of poor articulation started in the early 90s - and since then so many films have, for me, been marred by this indecipherable under-the-breath muttering. I really can't understand how anyone can follow it and I honestly wonder whether people are just too embarrassed to admit not having a clue about what the actors are saying for fear of appearing stupid. One theory I have about why this state of affairs came about is that as scenes are normally are shot over several 'takes', after a while everyone on set, the film crew as well as the actors, know the script so well that the latter become lazy or even bored, and no one gives a thought as to if an audience listening for the first time will catch the words.
Watch a film on TV made in the 1980s or before, and you can hear just about every single word - and that applies to American films as well as British, so the problem can't be one of accent.
Maybe 'The Social network' actually is a very good film. I can't really say. But on a scale of personal enjoyment, despite all the praise it's received, my own candid score would be a lowly 3/10.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Coming around again!

For me, tomorrow is the day that Macca sang about on 'Sgt Pepper' - but instead of 'Vera, Chuck & Dave' on my knee it'll be Blackso, with Noodles looking on - whether out of envy (but he'd be welcome too, if he'd only stay) or bemusement, it's difficult to judge.

Not doing anything special - but can't ever remember one single b/day I've ever had when I did.

Dinner will be my absolute favourite in the entire gastronomical history of the world - eggs, chips and beans (chips = French fries):-

Eggs - let's have four (five would be gluttony!), fried in veg oil, turned over for about 30 secs
Chips - in a heap. Maris Piper potatoes, chunky, and fried till they are deep brown and crisp
(Baked) Beans - in a separate bowl (so as not to cross-spoil). 'Heinz' from a tin, most of the sauce drained off and a large pinch of curry powder added.
- and perhaps a cheap and cheerful Shiraz might help ease the entire meal's path down my gullet.

Now, I defy anyone to suggest a dish more sublime than that. Simply unbeatable! The perfect celebratory repast.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

My few days away - the evidence.





Returned yesterday after my annual (sometimes bi-annual) visit to my sister's on Teesside, on the English north-east coast.
The seated trio is myself with my sister and her hubby, Ted.

During my stay visited Whitby, the best known town close by. It was once a thriving fishing port, and though it still has that industry, it's on a much-reduced scale.
Whitby was given particular additional fame by Bram Stoker who chose to have his Count Dracula land in England here.
In the final picture, on the summit of the hill are the ruins of St Hilda's Abbey, originally 7th century and sacked by the Vikings two centuries later, though nothing of the original remains apart from the site. It was restored in 1078 and remained an establishment of high national and indeed, international, significance until 1540 when Henry VIII dissolved all the country's monasteries on declaring himself head of the church in England in place of the Pope . (The little 'ship' in the same photo is a tourist sight-seeing boat for harbour and sea trips. Tacky, but also rather quaint.)

Okay, history lesson over. Now let's get back into routine.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Howlers from 'The Weakest Link'

Yesterday: -
Q. "Which Jewish place of worship is derived from the Hebrew word for 'assembly'?
Answer offered: "Mosque".

Recently:-
Q."Which African city is overlooked by Table Mountain?"
A: "California"

Q."Which country in the British Commonwealth has the highest population?"
A: "Russia"

and a golden oldie:-
Q." Which Royal House succeeded the Tudors?"
A: "Buckingham Palace"


I know people say that when you're actually on a TV programme it's much harder, but these are classic clangers which would shame any schoolkid - or at least I'd like to think so.
I have been four times on a BBC radio quiz (on music), recorded in a theatre before a live audience of 200 or so, broadcast not only nationally, but also worldwide on the BBC World Service, and I was never so over-dazzled by the experience that I gave inane answers.
I sometimes think there really are just so many genuinely ignorant people around that it makes me want to despair. Of course most of us believe in democracy and the right of everybody to vote (and, incidentally, I support the enfranchisement of all prisoners, whatever their crime, sadly not practiced the U.K.), but to think that there are so many uninformed people whose votes count as much as one's own is scary. Many of them don't even know the name of our Prime Minister or, say, which political party Mrs Thatcher led. (Oh dear, complaining about other people's voting sounds dreadfully reactionary but I'm really taking a swipe at a certain widespread woeful ignorance rather than the fact that people are entitled vote, which of course is surely an inviolable right.)

By the way, the first example above is not untypical of the confusion many seem to express between Islam and Judaism. I find they always tend to mistake the latter for the former, rarely the other way around. I've no doubt that when members of either faith hear such responses they are tearing their hair out, and with just cause.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Those spooky but wonderfully inexplicable moments of foreknowledge.

I'm sure that just about everybody gets a random thought about something in advance of unexpectedly experiencing it. Yesterday afternoon I was sitting here at the computer when the memory of an old 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' TV programme popped into my mind, ostensibly for no reason at all. I must have seen it in about 1960 and have certainly never seen it again. It concerned the macabre tale of a man who was thought to be dead but was actually alive and conscious, though showing no external signs of life. Various people (hospital staff? Undertakers? I can't remember) were discussing him and how to dispose of his body. In a voice-over he expressed his helpless horror at seeing and listening to them and his intense frustration at not being able to indicate that he was, in fact, still alive. Just when he was on the verge of giving up, one of the staff in the room notices a tear running from his permanently-open, weeping eye. That is the indicator that saves him from, literally, a fate worse than death. So after momentarily reflecting on this story for just a few seconds I dismissed it from my mind.
Then this morning I take the top book from my pile of 'still to read' (about 20 books currently). It's a Stephen King compendium of 14 short stories entitled 'Everything's Eventual'. I read the first story, called 'Autopsy Room Four'. Imagine the shiver up my spine when I find not only that it consists of a very similar situation to the TV programme which I'd been thinking about, though set, unsurprisingly, in an autopsy room, but in an afternote to the story, King actually mentions this very Hitchcock TV programme of 50 years back which had just popped into my head yesterday. (Incidentally, he says that the actor playing the subject was Joseph Cotten, a name which, at my age then, wouldn't have meant anything to me.) What a weird feeling it was! It makes one stop and ask oneself "Just what is going on here?" But at the same time as it's unsettling, it's also satisfying and intriguing.
The argument against the significance of such events is that one thinks of so many things, several hundred in the course of one day alone, that it's hardly surprising that now and again a seemingly random thought is bound to correspond with a later-occurring experience.
An even more spectacular incident happened for me when I was once in Amsterdam when, for reading material, I'd taken with me a single-volume Shakespeare play (as one does), this one being Richard II. Before going out to see the then new film of D.H.Lawrence's 'The Rainbow' (released in that city before it opened in England) I read a passage from the play which included the use of the word 'camel' and in an annotated explanation at the bottom of the page I learnt that the word, as well as being the hump-backed ruminant creature, also meant a stout kind of rope. Reference was made to Jesus' saying that "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (apologies if I haven't got the wording exactly right), which makes more sense when 'camel' = 'rope' than the animal trying to get through that minuscule aperture. (Since then the situation became more confused when I learnt that one of the city gates of ancient Jerusalem had the nickname of 'The Needle's Eye' because it was so narrow and low. So who knows now to what Jesus was actually referring? But, depending on the interpretation, while one is pretty difficult to achieve, the camel-animal going through the eye of a sewing needle is, if it needs saying at all, impossible. So, having just read that information about 'camel' and 'rope', I put the book down and went out to the cinema. When the film started, the very opening scene was a church service with the preacher declaiming from the pulpit "It is easier for a camel to pass through......" More shivers down the spine. Spooky or what?

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Another trite statement from a politician.

The recently elected leader of the Labour Party (of whom I have some, but not too many, hopes for the future) has just said in a radio interview that he doesn't believe in a God. Hooray! That makes two out of the three leaders of our main political parties who have declared themselves as atheists - and the Prime Minister himself only seems lukewarm, declaring that he doesn't regularly practice his (Anglican) faith - in stark contrast to our last two P.M.s, thank goodness. But then Ed Miliband goes and partly spoils it by saying that he has "a deep respect" for those who do have faith. Why do they always say this? One might respect those same others for different reasons, but what is there to respect about those who hold to a system of beliefs for a Supreme Being for which there's no demonstrable evidence? - and furthermore, these latter individuals almost invariably claim that they, as opposed to non-believers, ought to be given special privileges for having these bizarre views. This thing about having 'profound respect' is such a banal and silly statement to make, as though they were explaining that their non-belief is not something that should scare believers. When was the last time that a religious person declared the same level of 'respect' for a non-believer? Offhand I can't recall it ever happening. It's almost as though the atheist ought to be the apologetic one and the theist has not only no explaining to do but even considers himself as intellectually 'superior' and demands to be regarded as so. Sounds like double standards to me. High time for a fight back. Let's call a spade a spade!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Why are so many modern novels over-written?

I've just finished Jonathan Kellerman's 'Therapy', an L.A. detective murder mystery (2004). Not a terrible book - I've read plenty better, and also a good few far worse. At 550 pages it demands a lot of one's time and (a common criticism I have of a lot of contemporary writing) I can't help feeling it would have been vastly improved by being half the length, while still retaining its salient plot developments. To get down to specifics, do we really need to know in such fine and extraneous detail what characters look like and are wearing at particular points? - both men and women! What does it achieve other than slowing the reader down having to get through all the unnecessary excess 'fat'. One example towards the end:-
He looked to be around thirty, with long, wavy, brown hair parted in the middle, had on a grey shirt under a cracked, brown leather jacket rubbed white at the pressure points, rumpled beige cargo pants, white running shoes.......(yawn!)
Now what would be wrong with - "He looked about 30, long brown hair and wore a leather jacket and cargo pants."? There you are. It's all we need to know, perhaps even more than is necessary - and it doesn't slow down the action nor lose any atmosphere. I'm only surprised that the author didn't also go on to describe the colour of his underwear!
And why do we have to be told exactly what they are eating all the time? Does it really matter? Where's the relevance to the story? None. If it's junk food, fine, it's junk food. If it's in a restaurant I don't want to know of what each course consists.
I wonder if all this padding is deliberately to make the book longer and so give buyers a feeling of getting their money's worth? (Do long novels sell better than shorter ones?) Otherwise wouldn't the editor and publisher recommend pruning the manuscript offered? There may be something in that, as books of under 200 pages long are often priced the same as one which is two or three times the length.
Anyway, I got through it all after several sittings, but found my impatience to reach the end was getting the better of me and reduced any enjoyment that I was getting, though there wasn't much of that anyway. (Oh, those days when one could read a complete novel in just one sitting of two or three hours!)

Well, I've already started my next book, a re-reading of Roddy Doyle's 'Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha' which I first read in 1994 a year after it had won the 'Booker' prize (Britain's most prestigious annual award for new fiction). On first reading I just couldn't get onto the writer's wavelength though this time, after 50 pages, it's going a bit better. But in any case, at a mere 280 pages long, it should be a relative 'breeze'!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

My faithful and very dear friend, Blackso

Now what must be at least 11 years old and just showing signs of starting to slow down, Blackso is always appreciative, never takes me for granted, allows me to pick him up and cuddle him, rubs against me even when he's not wanting to eat, will sit for long periods on my lap purring contentedly or napping (and sometimes snoring). On the other hand, my other cat, Noodles, will do or let me do none of these things, only taking an interest in me when he wants something - but is just as fascinating nonetheless. But Blackso, with his overt affection, is a cat-lovers' dream - and I dread thinking of the day that's going to come when it's all over, for whatever reason. So I return the favour by showing my appreciation for him every single day while I can.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Some reflections on His Hole-iness' visit to the U.K. (so far)

I'm feeling aggrieved, disappointed, surprised and dismayed at how much adulation the Pope is getting here on the second day of his four day-visit. This was largely unexpected and, sadly, it's giving great satisfaction to the throngs of the 'faithful'. The BBC in particular is giving his visit saturation coverage - totally unwarranted as it's officially a 'state-visit' by the ruler of a really tiny state. They certainly wouldn't be giving a visit of, say, the King of Monaco anything like the same coverage, even though the latter is much larger than the Vatican City. But of course Pope B. is also considered a 'pastoral leader', so that gives added 'oomph' to his physical presence and means that we British taxpayers, whether we like it or not, have to fork out for the costs of his protection, something which, apparently, God himself is unable to provide. The BBC is, irritatingly, largely portraying 'His Holiness' as a misunderstood, though gentle and loveable, even cuddly, old man. Still, it's not over yet and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Papa Benedict will reveal his true, unacceptably intolerant colours soon. He's already come very close to that in sternly warning against a 'new and aggressive secularism and atheism' which needs to be confronted and defeated. The logic of this is, of course, that secularism and atheism are, at best, undesirable, and at worst, downright evil. Indeed, this morning I was appalled on hearing a female member of this morning's service congregation gushingly saying, without even being challenged, that one "needs 'faith' in order to be good", the inference being that having 'faith' is a pre-requisite to benevolence - a sine qua non, if you will. So there's never ever been one good person who didn't have a 'faith'? What utter tosh! Furthermore, which particular 'faith' does one need? All the major religions conflict with each other on a large number of issues. Even Christians can't stop squabbling among themselves - and within the very same branch of Christianity, too - but their leaders and spokespersons don't seem to want to talk about that. It's not mentioned that, for instance, although Islam holds Jesus Christ to be one of Allah's true prophets, not a single strand of Christianity gives Mohammed any status at all, either blotting him out of history or when he is mentioned, condemning him as being in error or blasphemous. Similarly, Buddhism is considered as a respectable religion although it doesn't believe in a Creator or a worshipful, interventionist Deity. Or Hinduism, with its range of gods and goddesses displaying a spectrum of characteristics, some positive, some negative, or sometimes boiled down to a trio of god(desse)s or, ultimately, one single hermaphroditic god/dess with multiple personalities some of which are disposed towards evil. And exactly which 'faiths' are included as acceptable? How about the Moonies, Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientology, Paganism, Shamanism, Voodoo, Rosicruciansim etc? (Is Astrology okay?) No, it seems that the greatest hostility is reserved not for those beliefs which in another time would have been condemned and persecuted as evil heresies, but for those who profess not to believe in any of them. Very strange.
So the 'Holy Father' continues going here and there, wagging that Papal finger at us for not allowing religion to discriminate in the ways that he wants, while making soothing assurances that the Church is 'doing penance' for the child-abuse scandal. What form exactly does this 'penance' take? Silent reflection and prayers for forgiveness to the 'Big Boss upstairs'? Big deal! (but very humbling, no doubt) Why not show real, positive contrition by handing over the Vatican's records to the civil police authorities? It's not good enough to respond by saying that most of the guilty or suspect priests are dead now anyway. Even if there is just one suspect figure still alive who is not yet known to the police, that has got to be sufficient reason to hand them all over - and anyway I'd bet that there are still a number of Vatican staff alive and working who were part of the disgraceful cover-up and who surely must now also be prosecuted. But, of course, that is just what the Church authorities are most afraid of - the coming to light of yet more damaging revelations! I wonder if all those who are supporting the Pope's oh-so-contrite attitude by saying that it's all history and that we now need to 'move on', would be so forgiving if one of their own relatives were victims, still living with their own mental life-sentences and scars.
So do we really need 'faith' then? No, especially not when the justification is simply and literally beyond all belief!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

'Metropolis' - latest restored version

It was encouraging to see a large cinema about 80% full as early as 11 a.m. today for this showing of the 1926 Fritz Lang film - newly restored at 2 hrs 25 mins to almost original length, following the discovery of a near-complete, but damaged, copy of the film in Buenos Aires. Of course one can nowadays smile at the absurd melodrama, the histrionic gestures (though as it's a silent film, that's understandable) and the simplistic portrayal of 'mad', and see the film as little more than a museum-piece, but visually it really does retain its grandeur - and now with a consistent orchestral soundtrack added, which I found much preferable to that rather odd, though not totally unsympathetic, electronic backing by Giorgio Moroder when a shorter version of the film was released in 1984 (which I actually saw in Munich). But this new version is likely to be the closest we'll ever get to Lang's original conception. It finished this morning to general, well-deserved applause. A rare and memorable cinematic experience. Great stuff!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

When our beloved pets pass away.

It's now over six hours since I read two distressing blogs about a dog and a cat passing on. This affected me so deeply that I still feel 'bruised' inside. I always find it so easy to identify with others in this situation.
Anyway, not wishing to dwell unduly on the profound sadness of such circumstances, it got me thinking of a certain event in my early schooldays which left a mental 'scar' on my sensitive mind.
I would have been 9 years old and our teacher for that year was the eldest (and sternest) of the teachers in my primary school. (The school headmistress was a nun, as was the most senior teacher. The remainder, apart from two men, were all lay women and all, incidentally, unmarried.) I'm not sure how the subject arose, but it was probably during a religious class when this class mistress asked the class as a whole "What's the difference between humans and animals?". I recall vividly a ginger-haired boy putting up his hand. "Please, Miss. An animal has no soul." The mistress allowed a slight smile of satisfaction across her wrinkled face "That's right. An animal has NO SOUL!" she said, slapping down on the desk to emphasise the last two words. I was stunned. I don't remember anything that came after. I think she coldly moved on to the next subject as though what she'd just said was of no great import, while I sat there flustered and wondering - "But that means if they've got no soul they can't go to heaven. There can't be ANY animals in heaven, then." (As long as I can remember, I've always been an avid animal lover, coming from an animal-loving family, though out of the seven members it was my mother and myself who were the most fond of them. By the time I was at the age of this 'discovery' we'd already have had two or three cats.) I think this little incident - 'little' in terms of time, major in terms of effect - was the first time that I'd experienced real conflict between myself and the religion I was being taught. I'm pretty sure I thought that if there are no animals in heaven then I didn't want to go there either. I wanted to go where the animals went.
Right through my life I can never understand the dismissive attitude nearly all religions have towards animals. In my re-reading of the Bible, for instance, at the beginning of Leviticus, it tells how animals (cattle, goats, lambs etc) are to be sacrificed and their bodies to be burnt as 'a sweet savour to the Lord' (re-translated in the New English Bible as 'soothing odour to the Lord'). Clearly this God has such 'refined senses' that He requires men to slaughter blameless, sentient beings and dispose of their corpses by fire so that he can delight in the 'aroma' so produced. Strange that if He likes it so much, the Almighty is unable to conjure up the equivalent sensation by Himself. And, to add a further absurdity, if priests or common men commit 'sin' they are to offer up the prescribed number animals in sacrifice to atone for their own misdeeds. WTF! It's not the animals fault, for goodness' sake! Yes, such a 'compassionate' God - NOT!
Throughout my life I've been accused explicitly or by implication of caring more about animals than humans, and more than children in particular. That's unfair and untrue. I cannot bear to witness deep grief for anyone, man or beast, having to switch channels if there's footage of, for instance, the recent floods in Pakistan. I find it impossible even now to watch re-runs of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. (There was a 2-hour TV documentary here on the event just a couple of nights ago. Couldn't watch it! Too under-the-skin!) But when it comes to animals too few societies and countries recognise their true value and worth - and the fact that they feel pain, distress, fear etc. There are just too many countries that have no laws at all against animal cruelty. And there are too many religions which continue to peddle the primitive belief that animals are there to be 'used' - actually put here by a 'God' for that very purpose.
But I will concede one admission. I do find animals generally easier to get on with than any human being that I've personally known - and I know for a fact that I'm not the only one.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Noodles is a real virtuoso on the keyboard. This is he this morning playing 'Lullaby in A flat-out'.

Both my pussies have a rota of where they sleep, and then change it after a few weeks. But this one has chosen my keyboard (always the treble end) every day for at least two months now, to rest himself during the day after an exhausting night out on the prowl. A bit odd when there are so many more comfortable places to have a 'cat-nap'. Means that when wanting to play myself I've either got to omit the top notes or move everything down an octave. And while I'm struggling with my transposed fingerwork do you think he cares enough to move away? NO!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Glorious Day

Most bloggers write about their social visits and adventures, which I enjoy reading, although I never write on the subject myself for the simple reason that I don't experience any. Not so yesterday, when I went to Brighton to spend the afternoon with a friend whom I'd got to know in Amsterdam nearly 30 years ago when he was then working in the gay hotel which I frequented, and whom I haven't seen for 12 years. David is actually originally English but has lived in Holland all this time - now earning his living there practising Shiatsu massage. He was spending a few days in England and brought with him a very nice friend from London of Turkish Cypriot extraction, probably early 40s, and another long-time female friend who was the eldest of the four of us. David was the only one of us who hadn't, in the past, lived for some years in Brighton, or even ever properly been to this gayest city in the country - so it was a visit of some 'discovery' for him.
Of course being a bank holiday weekend the crowds in the centre and around the 'sights' were even denser than usual but, what with the perfect sunny weather, it didn't deter our enjoyment in any way. Much catching-up, much earnest conversation, much banter and much laughter both over our meal in a Japanese restaurant and then walking around, he snapping his camera madly all over the place, then on the sea-front where there was so much activity of many descriptions - rock groups, vendors' stalls, sports, - and seeing conspicuous groups of gays 'queening' it around, it was lovely. David was particularly happy to witness two middle-aged men walking along hand-in-hand - still, sadly, a rare sight in England. Stopped at length for coffee and cakes at the open-air 'Meeting Point' cafe - and talking extravagantly about gay-life, politics, religion, life in general - but as all four of us were on the same wavelength regarding just about every subject we could say what we liked without fear of causing offence to any others (except to any who might have overheard our raucous, OTT, laughter-saturated bitching about those we didn't like. Some might well have thought that we were all high on 'grass'!). I was sorry when thoughts of my cats, whom I knew would have been pining for my return, caused me to make my excuses to leave. But I left on a definite, real 'high', with hugs and kisses all round - and promises to 'do it again' sometime. For me, one of those very rare 'days to remember'.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

One of the things I don't understand about (most) women.

Why do they wear make-up? What is 'disguising' their real self supposed to achieve - to make them appear more attractive than they actually are? I, for one, have nearly always found that women look nicer by not wearing any make-up - just like men, in fact. As long as they are clean and tidy I don't see any point in their painting their faces. Some psychologists opine that lipstick, for instance, is sometimes applied (unconsciously, of course) to present a visual resonance with the vulval labia for (hetero) men, though I imagine that many women, and quite a number of men too, would reject that suggestion outright and with horror. I don't know if that's true or not though it seems quite plausible to me.
The most homophobic person I ever worked with was a (then) young lady about 4 years younger than me - who, when she found out that I was gay, couldn't resist not only quoting (inaccurately) the Bible at me but also accused me of leading an 'unnatural' lifestyle (which, as any informed person knows, it isn't, of course. Minority maybe, but totally natural.) I think what had initially bewildered her was not only that I was almost certainly the first 'out' gay she'd ever met (this was 1979 - and at that time I was the first and only such in a department of 90+) but what had really thrown her was that I wasn't ashamed of what I was, while she, to deliberately rile me further, would openly say to others, within my earshot, things like "Queers should never be trusted near boys." But apart from all this, she'd come into the office every morning, face thick with foundation cream and with lipstick generously applied, painted like a circus clown, hair tastefully permed and with what smelt like at least half a bottle of perfume dabbed here, there and everywhere - and she had the gall to call me 'unnatural'! Thankfully it wasn't just me she was unpopular with. There was much mocking and chuckling behind her back - and I wasn't the only one who thought she was in reality a repressed lesbian. Her manner of communication with her co-workers was so overbearing, bullying and aggressively 'macho' even to the extent of tomboyishly threatening physical violence if others didn't do what she said (examples - "I'll throw this adding machine at you in a minute!" and [I kid you not] "How would you like your teeth kicked in?"), yet all the while making exaggeratedly clear to everybody how much she liked men - in general, of course, but no specific one in particular. Btw she did get married (for appearances sake?) after she left following just a 2-year term working with us. We heard later that it had lasted less than one year before she returned (childless!) to live back with her mother!
Anyway, getting the above off my chest has rather sidetracked me. I was talking about my bafflement on the need to wear make-up. But another mystery to me is high-heels. Why do they have to wear them at all, anywhere? I've never tried but they must be terribly uncomfortable, tricky and sometimes even dangerous to wear, as well as limiting one's manoeuvrability. And to what purpose? To make the wearer appear a couple of inches taller than she actually is? We know through Shakespeare (e.g. in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream') that shorter women were once considered inferior and less attractive than those taller. But I honestly would have thought we'd have got past that by now.
And don't get me even started on those ridiculous long fingernails!........

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Musicals on film - an experience that's SO second-best.

Like many gay men, I'm a BIG aficiando of musical theatre as well as being a long-term cinephile. Yet somehow these two media almost never seem to satisfactorily mix, and I wonder if they ever can. When compared with the immediacy and dynamism of a live theatrical show, there's something unsatisfactory about preserving an art-form on film where the essential complicity between performers and audience in one is totally absent from the other. There's an almost electric 'charge' in a well-delivered live musical which is unique to that medium which cannot be emulated or transferred via the artificiality of the screen. But as that is the only way we know how to keep a permanent record of it, one has to admit that it's probably better than not attempting it at all. Incidentally, it does irritate me when people claim to have 'seen' a musical when what they mean is that they've seen just the one film version of it, a form for which, of course, the vast majority of musicals were not originally written - and they've never attended a live theatrical production of it. Even scores that were originally written for film, such as 'Singin' in the Rain', 'Gigi', and 'Mary Poppins' can have an even more memorable longevity when later re-interpreted for the stage, so no one can ever look on filmed musicals as being the definitive version. They can always be improved upon.
Just one of the many reservations I have about filmed musicals is that they invariably omit a number of the songs ('Sound of Music', 'Oliver!, 'Cabaret' etc etc) - and, moreover, often mercilessly 'prune' even the ones that are there. To name but a mere two of the scores of examples of the latter - the witty 'Zip' from 'Pal Joey', 'I'm Gonna Wash...' from 'South Pacific' and so many more. (Needless to say I've seen all the musicals I've just named on the stage too.)
But having laid out my stall I'm now going to cite those three films (just from off the top of my head) that I think were the biggest travesties of their original music stage-show heritage - and not only are they all from the same period of late 1960s/early 1970s, but the latter two both have the same director! (Coincidence?) :-

Camelot
Fiddler on the Roof
Jesus Christ Superstar.

There, I've said it. I'd be very interested to know of other 'nominations' to this category of worst filmed musical as a film.

But any idiot can criticise. So, to be fair, I ought to mention those which I think were quite successful in their own terms and can bear repeated watching. So, without having done any profound or lengthy thinking, three that come to mind are:

The King and I
Oliver!
The Rocky Horror (Picture) Show.

I could write a long blog on the pluses and minuses of the individual entries on both lists, as well as on many more films - and may well do in future - but it would be nice to get get other peoples' thoughts on the subject. After all, there is so much written on both films and musicals, but I've yet to read anyone voicing opinions on the success or failure in attempting to combine the two.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Richard Dawkins - why is he so often cast as a villain?

Yesterday there was the first of a short series of TV progs by Dawkins (unfortunately on one of our less-viewed cable channels) in which he articulated his concern about the rapid growth of faith-schools of all religions in the U.K., the mushrooming number of which was largely instigated by Blair when he was Prime Minister. In just one instance, it was so sad to see him speaking to a group of burka-clad girls in a Muslim school, with their burka-clad teachers present, not a single one of whom (pupils and teachers) believed in evolution. One pupil even stated that "All science is contained in the Koran" whilst her teacher nodded approvingly. (Yeah, right! Such as Quantum Mechanics, Cosmology, Laser technology etc. Though having read the Koran eight times to date, in five different translations, it's strange how I managed to miss such references.) And these same pupils being taught in a faith-school are supposed to represent humanity's hope for the future? Shame that that particular breathtaking assertion was left unchallenged.
Since I first became aware of Dawkins quite some years ago, any mention of his name was always coupled with the qualification that he was a 'fanatical atheist' and every bit as bad, or even worse, than religious fundamentalists. But I've yet to see him in this oft-cited mode of swivel-eyed, crazy fanaticism. Indeed, his arguments always seem to me to be cogent and measuredly expressed, whereas the people whom he confronts are the ones who start shifting about nervously and even raising their voices at him. Actually if I get frustrated at all it's that he never seems to press his arguments far enough but tends to let the other side wriggle free and let them have the last word. I think he is even too well-mannered sometimes. His extolling the virtues of the language of the Book of Common Prayer and certain passages of the Bible was sensible and accurate. I too could see the beauty of the English prose in those works before I was even aware of Dawkins. And yet...and yet....there is so much widespread visceral hatred directed towards him. I can only assume that the belief of his critics is so shaky that they feel particularly fragile and vulnerable against his arguments and so they attack in the only way they know, i.e. to get personal. But having seen and read quite a lot of him now, and having last year read his book, 'The God Delusion', he is definitely becoming, if not quite one of my personal 'heroes' (though he is getting there), then certainly one of the people living today whom I would most like to meet.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Sleeping alone - can't beat it!

I've often wondered why so many couples sleep together. Is it just me who finds that sleep is an activity best carried out in solitude? Don't get me wrong - heaven forfend that I should advocate abstemious celibacy! No, what I mean is that a large/double bed is very useful for certain 'pleasures', but when it comes to slumbering I'd far rather be alone. Actually it's been many years now since I even had such a choice, but I must admit that on those occasions when I did, either in my own home or that of friends (or even strangers!), manners prevented me from saying what I really felt once the, erm, 'physical business' was over with, and we both wanted to sleep. Even in my more affluent days when I had my own large place with a spare bedroom and bed I could never bring myself to suggest we sleep separately for fear of offending my visitor. So I spent the night 'suffering in silence' whilst we spent the night turning over at different times, me getting very little sleep indeed, (I'm also told that I tend to kick out in my sleep) or, even more irritating, being held with the other's arms around my chest (or somewhere else) whilst trying to sleep. Often I just wanted to yell out "GET OFF ME!". Then there's also the issue of the other person snoring.
I just wonder how many more there are out there who feel as I do, but who daren't voice their true feelings. Only hope I'm not causing arguments to break out. But maybe I'm a rarity.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

'Inception' - my own penn'orth.

Yesterday I went to see this film for the second time - and it certainly was money well-spent. I know some say that it tries to be 'too clever by half', but I don't think so.
Thought it might be useful to register a couple of comments.
On first viewing I hadn't quite grasped the significance that in dreams events take place in a world which moves faster than reality. In the film 20 times as fast is stated, though I don't know if that's based on any research. But the basic point is correct. We've all experienced an extended dream which seems to cover hours and then woken up to find that only a few minutes have elapsed since we fell asleep. I wonder if the film might have been helped by having just an occasional split-screen, maybe for just a half-minute or so, to show what was happening simultaneously on the different levels of consciousness. Just a thought. It might have explained to me why, on first viewing, that van was taking so long to fall into the river. (Maybe I was just slow on the uptake?)
Normally C.G.I. effects leave me feeling unmoved and uninvolved ( as in 'Avatar', for example). The physically-arduous old-style of creating spectacular action scenes used to excite me much more. However, 'Inception' is different. I thought the effects were quite awesome, perhaps aided by the fact that although in dreams they appear quite matter-of-fact and 'normal', actually seeing them created so realistically on screen was mind-blowing. The fight in the hotel corridor was particularly brilliant. (How on earth did they do that? Multiple shots in a free-falling airplane at zero G? Surely too intricate just for green-screen and superimposition?)
Btw, although I'm going to get a few raspberries for even mentioning it, I'm not sure that every member of a cinema audience gets the cinematic 'wink' that Chris Nolan gives in choosing a particular song to provide a 'kick' out of the dreams whilst having Marion Cotillard among the main cast, who won the Oscar for her lead role in 'La Vie en Rose' a couple of years ago. (No, I hadn't seen or heard it referred to before I saw the film.)

Right, now should I pay to see the film for a third time? Maybe I ought.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

I'm re-reading the Bible - but don't worry, folks!

This is going to be the sixth time I'll have done a cover-to-cover read, but emphatically NOT for religious reasons, though the first couple of times maybe were. (How many 'true' Christians have read the Bible right through, even once? Only a minority, I would suggest.)
When I'm asked "What made you 'lose' your faith?" I take satisfaction in replying "Reading the Bible." which rather stymies the nosy enquirer, as their antidote to disbelief would almost invariably be to read the Bible more. (And why do they always refer to one as losing one's faith? It seems to imply that one has misplaced something valuable that one would like to have back again. I didn't lose it - I intentionally discarded it as being both erroneous and useless!)
Anyway, as with my previous reads it's very much a piecemeal affair - maybe a couple of chapters every morning, taking notes as I go and scribbling in the margins. (My own most overworked word on previous readings has been "WHY?".) Each time it usually takes over a year to get right through.
My reason for undertaking this seemingly masochistic task is partly to get even more informed as to what I'm talking about when countering 'Bible- thumpers' and 'God-botherers' but also to get further ammo for any future confrontations (not that I'm actually looking for any).
But having so far re-read only the first few chapters of Genesis it's again so evident to me what a hodge-podge of half-baked ideas and inconsistencies the Bible is. As the chronological history it purports to be, it's in hopelessly incoherent and contradictory order. Presumed to be written by Moses, you'd think that God might have made a better job in 'inspiring' him to write this sequence of events properly (even if intended to be allegorical) with some logical flow. How so many maintain that it's directly the word of the Creator and it's got to be taken literally is just beyond me. You'd think that they (and God) would grant us the intelligence with which we are supposed to be endowed and favoured.
Could continue further in this vein but I'm sure there'll be loads to say on the subject in future blogs.

Btw I don't intend to make myself out as viciously anti-ALL Christianity - or, indeed, all religion. I only direct my fire at those who see the Bible or the Koran (which I've now read eight times in five different translations - so far!) etc as set in stone and absolutely not susceptible to interpretation in the light of subsequent (scientific, biological and other) discovery and social changes. Actually I do have admiration and considerable respect for Quakers, certain other 'sects' of Christianity and Hinduism, but probably most of all, for Buddhism with its emphasis on taking personal responsibility for one's own actions and their consequences. That's religion that I have no argument with.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

When Noodles wants a snooze there's no stopping him.

This afternoon, for my own entertainment and relaxation I was playing the wonderful Irving Berlin when Noodles decided to jump up and 'accompany' me. The song? - 'I Love a Piano'!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Great news from Spain

I was so heartened to hear yesterday that the Catalonian regional Government has voted to ban bull-fighting throughout the area. (Actually I thought that it had already been outlawed in Barcelona but it seems that there was one officially operating bull-ring in that city - until now.) I've said before in these blogs that I personally extend the usual rule-of-thumb that one "should be able to do as one likes as long as it doesn't harm another" beyond just humans but to all animals too. I appreciate being in a minority here and that my views on not using animals for 'pleasure', be it their slaughter to provide food or clothing, most especially when there are alternatives available, or for 'entertainment' purposes (circuses, hunting, shooting, even fishing) are enough to give a perception of me as being nothing but a crackpot, a spoilsport, a fuddy-duddy interferer, and probably even an over-fanatical 'enemy'. But I do feel bull-fighting has always been indefensible - with the entire pack of cards in the hands of the matador - not to mention all his other assistants waiting on the ring periphery to rescue him if he gets into trouble. Blunting the creature's horns so that it can't even defend itself, indeed! If one is going to argue that it's a sport of 'skill' then at least have the guts to grant some equality of attack and defense and have the option of allowing the animal to escape. That might be more plausible, though it's still grossly unfair as the bull is not given a choice whether to participate or not.
But I know that even with this particular banning move there's still some way to go. I hear that bull-fights (fights? Ha!) are most popular in the south of Spain as well as in Madrid. But I'm still encouraged by this start - and I feel and fervently hope that it's the sort of move that is rather more likely to spread to other regions rather than being overturned. Surely, in time the sport is doomed. All progress on this and other so-called similar 'entertainment' can only move in one direction.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Surprising revelations re my downstairs neighbour

When he moved in almost exactly a year ago I was immediately complaining about the disturbance he was making, mainly by frequent playing of loud music into the early hours. Well, that has abated, though not stopped - it's now about once a week at the most instead of most nights. (And it's still usually the Stones or Susan Boyle - such an unlikely combo!).
I feared worse things about 10 days ago when, hearing me going out - "Hey, Ray, have you got a computer?" I wished I'd been a good liar but had to admit it. (I just can't tell bare-faced untruths, especially to someone in my physical presence - stuttering, red face etc.) It turned out he wanted a favour as he'd just got a job as a solar-panel salesman and needed to be informed each evening of the addresses of potential clients to call on the following day, though he did offer to pay me. So, unwisely perhaps, I gave him my e-mail address to pass onto his firm. But after a week of giving him daily details he jacked in the job. He now intends to be a double-glazing salesman, work he says he's done before, so I may still be needed for the same reason. Anyway, as he was telling me all this I gently enquired about his previous life. It seems that not only did he used to own a pub in the west of England, which, he said bitterly, had to close down due to loss of business following the national smoking-ban of a few years ago. But before that he'd been an army 'tank-commander' in the first Gulf War. However, to cap even that, it turns out that he is also a published author - and he gave me as a gift a hardback copy of a book published in 1998, which he inscribed to me. It's a 220-page modern fable of animals and humans fighting to prevent a motorway being constructed through a rural area. It's not a children's book, even though the animals are anthropomorphic - wearing clothes, talking among themselves, even smoking and drinking. All this is witnessed by one little girl who, uniquely, is able to interact with them - the other humans see the animals as 'normal' (unclothed and only making animal sounds). Notable, though, is how most of both the animals and the humans are continually smoking - cigarettes as well as cigars and pipes. There's hardly a scene in which one of the characters of both types isn't lighting up. (It's clearly an issue with the writer.) The obvious comparison of the book is with 'Watership Down' though I think my neighbour's book is better. (I found 'Watership' a difficult and actually quite a turgid read.) But I'm very impressed by my neighbour's command of language with such vivid imagery that's so alive - writing which is quite at odds with what I would have expected from a man who's not infrequently the worse for drink. But so many writers were (and are) heavy drinkers - and, indeed, smokers. But it is a pretty good book, I must say! I've checked on the web and this is the only book of his I can find. Even so, it's an unlikely and welcome surprise.
I don't know much about his personal life at all - whether he's married, been married, and/or if he's gay - though there's no 'indication' of the latter, and no acknowledgement of 'gayness' in any characters in his book, even while reading between the lines and looking for 'hints'. But additionally the guy, who must be about 40, is just not my type. The only visitor he ever gets is an old (older than me, that is!) fellow who sometimes comes round to walk his dog. I've never seen or heard any other visitors in the year that he's been here. His beautiful dog, by the way, still comes out to give me a sniff, but no wagging tail now - and then she walks away. I'm clearly just a crashing bore! It gets occasional excitements out at the back by lunging at my two furry flat-mates when they sit on the garden wall, but who scamper off at lightning speed as soon as they see her.
Before he moved in below my landlord had told me that one of the potential tenants was a guy who'd hit financial rock-bottom and had been reduced to living in a tent on grass verges. I reckon it must have been this guy - who had came back to this, his birth area, after his pub business collapsed. For that I have some sympathy as more than once I've come within a whisker of being in the same situation myself. So learning more about him has altered my perspective quite favourably. But I don't think we have enough in common to make me want to socialise with him. (He did invite me in for a whisky and a chat but I excused myself) Besides, there's all that smoking!

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Wallowing in premature self-pity?

Getting increasingly obsessed with things I want to do before it's too late - like travelling abroad again, particularly re-visiting those old European haunts I got to know so well when I had not only money but also the energy it required to experience them 'properly'. In addition I so much miss not having the means to go to the theatre regularly, particularly to London's West End when I used to see practically everything of note - great plays, big musicals, huge stars, immense enjoyment! Then there's all those books I've yet to read and re-read for maybe one last time, music to hear, all sorts of experiences to have.......
Now as I start to approach my 64th birthday in October I'm becoming terrified of suffering something such as a stroke which would incapacitate me physically while I frustratingly retain all these unfulfilled desires, a true living hell. Not only that, but because I've never had a true 'relationship' or even a single long-lasting deep friendship, there is no one around who would really care and I'd be left to the mercy of one or more carers with all their well-meaning (I hope), but synthetic, sympathy. Particularly heart-breaking would be the fate of my two dear pets. Of course all this is a 'worst case' scenario which may never transpire, but just the possibility of it happening is making life a worrying experience!

Friday, 16 July 2010

Today's visit to the doctor didn't help

Just come back from my doctor - a regular visit to check on my blood pressure. (It's satisfactory) In our wide-ranging chat I told him that after a several-month pause I'd resumed occasional morning running again, which he approved, of course - and then I said I'd been wondering about the fact that I'm hardly ever ill from anything. The last time I recall actually even having a heavy cold, which had confined me to bed for maybe a single day, must have been a good 15 years ago. He put it down, after questioning, to the fact that I don't meet and interact face-to-face with other people. In fact any 'social life' at all has been completely non-existent since the early 90s. Then I wondered if it also had anything to do with my having been veggie for nigh on 50 years. I didn't expect the uncalled-for mini-lecture I then got on how it was more 'natural' for man to be omnivorous (like himself, he just happened to add) and that as human teeth are designed for eating meat (Designed? By whom?), my not eating meat (and fish) is more of a fluke to my being in good health than anything else. I wanted to riposte that my reasons for being so were purely empathic, in not wishing to partake, just for a few moments of 'pleasure', of the product of another sentient being's pain, distress and probably terror, often after an entire lifetime of extreme discomfort (to put it mildly!) and anguish - but I was so gobsmacked by his little tirade, albeit with a smug smile on his face, that I was left speechless. I left his surgery doubly irritated by his sanctimonious attitude (and it's us veggies who are usually lampooned for being 'oh so superior!') and also annoyed with myself for not coming out with a ready and justified answer to him. I bet that if he'd taken my B.P. at the end of the session he would have got a very different reading.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

'Mockingbird' at 50

There's been a number of radio and TV programmes here recently marking the half-century since the Harper Lee novel was first published and this has been the spur to my re-reading it. But I won't pretend. I only first read it a mere 6 or 7 years ago, though I'd seen the film at least twice and found it pretty good, but maybe not in my all-time Top 100.
There's just been a first-rate TV documentary in which the presenter travelled to Monroeville, where the authoress still lives, and which is almost certainly the town of 'Maycomb' where the story takes place. I hadn't known that the writer had been the direct neighbour of Truman Capote and that he is pretty well certain to be the model of the 'Dill' character in the book.
The cameras went to celebrations of two anniversary events, a party and a fete - but what surprised me was that virtually all the faces there were white, save for two black waiters. How ironic! However, there was only a few minutes of footage so I might have got an erroneous impression. On the other hand it seems that even though there's no more segregation in law there is still a disappointing amount of unspoken 'social segregation'. But I'm hardly in a position to be sanctimonious. It's only just hit me forcefully that not only are all the blogs that I follow exclusively those of Caucasian males (all gay, too!) I've never in my life had one friend who wasn't white. It's not exactly something of which to be proud.
In this TV programme the presenter talked to maybe half a dozen people at the anniversary celebrations - and unbelievably, not a single one of these had read the book! ("I haven't quite got round to it yet." Yeah, right!) But again in just the short time shown it might not have been a representative sample., although I had assumed that 'Mockingbird' would have been one of those seminal books that all Americans would have read one time or another. How wrong one can be, it seems!
However I must say that in this country, for example, I have never met one other person who, like myself, reads Shakespeare for pleasure. I've read one of his plays every single month for the last 40+ years - and the level of profundity astounds me more and more on every reading. ("How could a human mind have thought of that and expressed it in that way?" I'm always saying to myself.) People like to keep reminding me that the plays weren't intended to be read. True, but I'm blowed if I'm going to sit around just waiting for a live staging to come to a local theatre or to watch repeat showings of films (some excellent) on TV. Besides, I like to read at my own speed which allows me to savour the words, and every now and again to stop and marvel at the language. In this country, as I would imagine everywhere else, people find him hard-going, and he certainly does require effort - but what rewards one is returned! Despite the fact that most are put off from the idea of actually sitting down to read him, yet still millions from both home and abroad flock to Stratford on Avon - for exactly the same reason as they do to Monroeville, I suppose.
Anyway, 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is even more impressive and enjoyable this time around than before, having, as I do, more background information. If I ever happen to meet someone and the conversation turns to books and I find they haven't yet read it I wouldn't hesitate to make a strong recommendation. It's what I'd describe as "a very good read."

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Woody Allen - never disappoints, except when he does.

I'd been so looking forward to seeing 'Whatever Works' too. It wouldn't have mattered either way that it got critical acclaim here ("Allen back on form!" - what again?) but, on previous experience, I'd been expecting to really like it anyway. As it turned out..... oh dear, what a downer! It must only be me, though. His trilogy of London films made over the last few years were all panned by the critics. Indeed, I recently heard 'Match Point' referred to by a BBC critic as his worst film ever - a mighty big claim, but I really liked it. Same goes for 'Cassandra's Dream' which no one else apart from me seemed to admire. (The third film, 'Scoop', didn't get a theatrical release here, so I'm eagerly watching for it to appear on TV.) But this 'Whatever Works' is back in his familiar NY milieu. Apart from his too infrequent brilliant flashes of wit in the script it largely left me cold. Noteworthy is that in the final few minutes there's a gay character, though the situation and what it develops into in the very final scene is treated so ineptly and rings so false as to jar. I say 'noteworthy' because it's Allen's most up-front acknowledgement that gays exist at all since Meryl Streep played the lesbian mother and Allen's character's former partner in 'Manhattan'. Even just mentioning gays in his other films is very rare and never more than just a passing comment. But I'd given up on 'Whatever Works' long before these final moments anyway.
However, having said all that, I definitely am pleased to admit that the release of any Woody Allen film is a real 'event' for me. I've found that out of all his prolific output there is only a small handful that do not repay further viewing(s) though this latest film will, regretfully, be in that category.
I know that most critics and, perhaps viewers too, consider that his best films are 'Annie Hall' and 'Manhattan', both of which I also like a lot (though in the former, the scene of the escaped lobster in the kitchen makes me uncomfortable - Laugh at me if you must!) His own favourite in terms of the finished product coming closest to his conception is 'The Purple Rose of Cairo', also pretty good. For me though, his summit of achievement has got to be 'Hannah and her Sisters'. An excellent script that feels 'true', unbeatable ensemble acting (with Michael Caine in particular never having been better and fully deserving his Oscar), great soundtrack music choices....so much going for it that I can readily forgive the too-pat 'happy ending' given to Allen's own character. I'd give it an easy 9/10. But 'Whatever Works'....well, 'cos I want to be generous, a modest 4 at most, just for those all-too-few precious moments!

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Ghosts

I was going to write a blog today on whether there is some sort of existence after death - then I've just seen on the Perez Hilton site that the film 'Paranormal Activities 2' is about to be released. (The first one affected me deeply. In fact it scared the pants off me. Figuratively, of course!)
Even though I seriously doubt the existence of a Deity (most especially an omnificent, interventionist and totally benevolent one), I find myself unable to categorically say "No. There's absolutely no survival after death. Definitely not!".
I think there are too many missing explanations for phenomena such as (for want of a better word) 'ghosts'. Of course I accept that a high proportion of such witnessing is unreliable and that many of the 'appearances' are products of trickery or charlatanism. But every single one of them? Maybe, but I can't help thinking that there's something happening, for which we haven't yet discovered the whys and wherefores. I've never had such an experience myself but have met maybe two or three who do claim to have witnessed them, and I don't have any reason to think they were just kidding me. It's strange how many of these occurrences are in oldish houses, mansions, castles, churches, theatres etc in which a mysterious figure walks or glides across the floor and disappears through a wall. In each viewing of this apparition the figure seems to do exactly the same thing every time - rather in the manner of a short film being replayed over and over again. There is a theory that somehow the walls or surroundings have 'recorded' this somewhat insignificant act of the subject in the past and, in a manner at present not understood, this is what is being replayed. If the apparitions really are genuine and are not mere visual illusions then this explanation seems to me no more ridiculous than thinking that they really are authentic 'beings'. At least it would knock on the head the idea of a parallel existence in a 'spirit world', which I find more comforting than the thought that there really is another existence to which we are consigned or trapped inside.
As for seances, I don't know what to think. They must all be fake or something very troubling is happening. I don't understand why all the 'voices' maintain that they are 'happy' where they are, and they are never asked to describe or explain their surroundings. That's what I'd most like to know.


By the way, I see from the very short clip of the new 'Paranormal Activities' that a dog is featured. I'm always put off from wanting to see any film which includes animals because I know my emotions are just too easily manipulated - particularly when the animals are hurt or, heaven forbid, killed - although I'm aware that such wouldn't be allowed to actually happen in a film made in the America or Europe. But anyway I'm now not sure whether I'll be wanting to see this one. Pity. (The thing I most remember about the original 'Amityville Horror' film was my desperately hoping and willing that the family dog would get out alive - and was so relieved when it did.)

So ghosts - real or not? I dunno! WhooooooooOOOOOOooooo!!!!